Kennewick cop back on duty as death investigation continues

Jair Ealy-Thomas, left, shakes hands with Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg.
Jair Ealy-Thomas, left, shakes hands with Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg.

A Kennewick police officer is back at work days after firing a Taser at a man who later died at Trios Southridge Hospital.

Officer Jair Ealy-Thomas was placed on paid administrative leave per department policy as the Tri-City Special Investigations Unit looked into the death of Nicholas J. Garza, 27.

Investigators interviewed Ealy-Thomas about the incident. Based on preliminary reports, Chief Ken Hohenberg returned him to work.

A passerby found Garza in “medical distress” around 7:26 p.m. outside of Park Middle School on Sept. 27. Police said Garza displayed “abnormal behavior,” so dispatchers also sent an officer with medics.

After Ealy-Thomas noticed a knife near Garza, he ordered him to step back, according to Sgt. Aaron Clem.

When Garza didn’t, Ealy-Thomas shocked him with a Taser. It didn’t seem to have any effect, Clem said, but didn’t know how or why.

Garza calmed down and was taken to Trios Southridge Hospital, where he died hours later, Clem said.

The Benton County Coroner’s Office is waiting for blood tests before determining why Garza died.

A death notice said Garza lived in the Tri-Cities for the past 12 years, when he wasn’t working on fishing boats in Alaska.

Ealy-Thomas, a Kennewick native and former Southridge High School football player, joined the department through the cadet program in 2017. He was brought on as a full-time officer later in the year.

Cameron Probert; 509-582-1402; Twitter: @cameroncprobert